Lifestyle Changes for Heart Failure

Updated:Mar 14,2017



Following recommendations about diet, exercise and other habits can help to alleviate symptoms, slow your disease's progression and improve your everyday life. In fact, people with mild to moderate heart failure (HF) often can lead nearly normal lives as a result.

You or your loved ones may have to change your regular routine by ...

Quitting smoking

Each puff of nicotine from tobacco smoke temporarily increases heart rate and blood pressure, even as less oxygen-rich blood circulates through the body. Smoking also leads to clumping or stickiness in the blood vessels feeding the heart. People who quit smoking are more likely to have their heart failure symptoms improve.

Learn more about quitting smoking.

Each puff of nicotine from tobacco smoke temporarily increases heart rate and blood pressure, even as less oxygen-rich blood circulates through the body. Smoking also leads to clumping or stickiness in the blood vessels feeding the heart. People who quit smoking are more likely to have their heart failure symptoms improve.

Learn more about quitting smoking.

Sudden weight gain or weight loss can be a sign that you may be developing heart failure or that your heart failure is progressing. Weigh yourself at the same time each morning, preferably before breakfast and after urinating. Notify your healthcare professional if you gain three or more pounds in one day, five or more pounds in one week, or whatever amount you were told to report. Learn more about maintaining a healthy weight. Learn more about maintaining a healthy weight.

When your body is retaining fluid, as often happens with heart failure, your healthcare team may recommend limiting how much liquid you get. Many people are prescribed diuretics (water pills) to help them get rid of extra water and sodium and reduce their heart's workload. Talk with your healthcare provider about how much liquid to drink every day.

If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. This means no more than one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.

Learn more about Alcohol and Heart Disease.

Consume only a moderate amount of caffeine per day, no more than a cup or two of coffee.

Learn more about Caffeine and Heart Disease.

Eat a healthy diet that's low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium.

Perhaps participating in a structured rehabilitation program. Begin an exercise program (with your healthcare provider's permission). Schedule physical activity at the same time every day so it becomes a regular part of your lifestyle.

Take 15 to 20 minutes a day to sit quietly, breathe deeply and think of a peaceful scene. Or try a class in yoga or meditation (check with your healthcare provider first). Count to 10 before responding when you feel angry to help reduce your stress.

Learn more about managing stress.

Of symptoms and reporting any changes that concern you to your healthcare professional.

To help control high blood pressure, research has shown that monitoring blood pressure at home can be helpful in addition to regular monitoring in a healthcare provider's office. Chart your blood pressure to provide information on what is happening with your blood pressure over time and help eliminate false readings. Find out more about how healthy eating can lower your blood pressure with the DASH eating plan.

To improve your sleep at night, use pillows to prop up your head. Avoid naps and big meals right before bedtime. Try napping after lunch or putting your feet up for a few minutes every couple of hours.

Learn about sleep apnea and heart disease.

Join a support group for people with heart failure and other heart conditions. Contact local churches, religious congregations and volunteer centers to find out about programs that provide meals, transportation and errand services for people who need assistance.

Flu and pneumonia pose greater dangers for people who have heart failure (or any heart condition) than for healthy people. Pneumonia is a lung infection that keeps your body from using oxygen as efficiently as it should. Your heart has to work harder to pump oxygenated blood through the body. People with heart failure should avoid putting this extra stress on their heart.

Ask a healthcare professional about getting a yearly influenza vaccine and a one-time pneumococcal vaccine (to guard against the most common form of bacterial pneumonia). Both vaccines are generally safe and seldom cause any severe reactions. It's much riskier not to have them. You might have some pain or swelling at the site of the shot (on the arm), but this will go away after a few days. Read more about flu and pneumonia.

Many people with heart failure can still be sexually active. Choose a time when you're feeling rested and free from the day's stresses.

Learn more about sex and heart disease.

Avoid tight socks or stockings (like thigh-high or knee-high hose); they can slow blood flow to the legs and cause clots. Avoid temperature extremes as much as possible, too. Dress in layers so you can add or remove garments as needed.


Making these changes is easier said than done. Dealing with new restrictions and responsibilities is challenging, but working these changes into your daily routine can make a real difference.

Queen Latifah's mom, Rita Owens, is living with heart failure. Inspired by her mom, Queen says that keeping a positive attitude and always being supportive are key to helping a loved one manage heart failure. She also wants to stress that for caregivers, it’s important to care for your own health as well.
Read Queen Latifah's Top 10 Caregiving Tips.

HF Series in Heart Insight Magazine

HI mag coverBig Heart Problem
In the first of a four-part series on heart failure, we investigate what it is, what causes it and what’s the prognosis.

The Unrelaxing Heart
The second installment explains heart failure with muscle intact. Queen Latifah and her mom, Rita, share their personal experience with Rita’s own heart failure diagnosis.

The Ins and Outs of Hospitalization
Heart failure patients are often hospitalized. This article looks at managing self-care to minimize just how often re-hospitalizations happen.

Shared Decision Making for Advanced HF
When HF progresses to an advanced stage, there are many decisions to be made. Here we delve into the importance of shared decision making.


This content was last reviewed April 2015.

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